Why Can I Hear Soft Sounds But Can’t Understand Conversations?

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Cranking up the volume doesn’t always resolve hearing loss problems. Consider this: Lots of people are capable of hearing very soft sounds, but can’t make out conversations. The reason for this is hearing loss frequently develops unevenly. You tend to lose particular frequencies but have no problem hearing others, and that can make voices sound muffled.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Conductive hearing loss is a result of a mechanical problem in the ear. It could be a congenital structural problem or because of an ear infection or excessive wax buildup. Your root condition, in many cases, can be managed by your hearing specialist and they can, if needed, recommend hearing aids to help fill in any remaining hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss happens when the tiny hairs in the inner ear, also known as cilia, are damaged, and this condition is more typical. When sound is sensed, it vibrates these hairs which transmit chemical messages to the auditory nerve to be passed to the brain for translation. When these delicate hairs in your inner ear are injured or killed, they don’t ever re-grow. This is why sensorineural hearing loss is often caused by the natural process of aging. Things like exposure to loud noise, certain medications, and underlying health conditions can also bring about sensorineural hearing loss.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

Requesting that people speak up when they talk to you will help some, but it won’t solve your hearing issues. Specific sounds, including consonant sounds, can become difficult to hear for individuals who suffer from sensorineural hearing loss. This may cause somebody with hearing loss to the incorrect idea that people around them are mumbling when in fact, they’re talking clearly.

When somebody is dealing with hearing loss, the pitch of consonants often makes them hard to distinguish. The frequency of sound, or pitch, is calculated in hertz (hz) and the higher pitch of consonants is what makes them more difficult for some people to hear. Depending on the voice of the person speaking, a short “o”, for example, will register between 250 and 1,000 hertz. But consonants including “f” or “s” will be anywhere from 1,500 to 6,000 hertz. People with sensorineural hearing loss have difficulty processing these higher-pitched sounds because of the damage to their inner ears.

This is why simply speaking louder doesn’t always help. If you can’t hear some of the letters in a word like “shift,” it won’t make much difference how loudly the other person speaks.

How do Hearing Aids Help?

Hearing aids come with a component that goes in the ear, so sounds reach your auditory system without the interference you would typically hear in your environment. Hearing aids also help you by boosting the frequencies you can’t hear and balancing that with the frequencies you can hear. This makes what you hear a lot more clear. Modern hearing aids can also block out background noise to make it easier to make out speech.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.